"Hill Street Blues" Behind-the-Scenes: Not Widely Known Facts About the Iconic Show

One of Hollywood's most successful television formulas is a good police drama. The titular story of good vs evil has been around ever since motion pictures were created. In the '80s, one such police story took America by stom. It was called "Hill Street Blues". The show won an amazing 26 Emmys and 3 Golden Globes.

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Image Source: Getty Images

For seven seasons the hit drama showed the inner workings of a police force, outside the usual action and guns-a-blazing police shows we've all been used to. The show launched the careers of several Hollywood big names, and there's so much more to show than just the 'blues'. Here's a behind-the-scenes look at some facts about the show.

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Image Source: Getty Images


THE CREATORS DIDN'T WANT THE STUDIO INTERFERING WITH THEIR WRITING

NBC hired MTM Enterprises to produce the cop show. Writers Steven Bochco and Michael Kozoll were appointed to pen the script. The two writers agreed only as long as the network left them “completely alone to do whatever we want,” according to Bochco. NBC agreed, and the two wrote the pilot script in 10 days.

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Bocho had previously created "The Gemini Man" and "The Invisible Man" tv shows, he would go on to also create tv hits like "L.A. Law", "City of Angels", and "NYPD Blue". Kozoll, on the other hand, had previously worked with Bochco on "Delvecchio" and would later pen the script for "First Blood", the Rambo movie.

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A DOCUMENTARY INFLUENCED THE CREATION OF THE SHOW

NBC's then-president Fred Silverman got the inspiration to create a cop show after watching the Paul Newman flick, "Fort Apache, The Bronx". A 1981 film about a police officer in the South Bronx police district. In response to this, the show's creators look to "The Police Tapes", a documentary that shed light on life in Soth Bronx cops from 1977.

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BRUCE WEITZ CAME PREPARED DURING HIS AUDITIONS

Bruce Weitz landed the role of undercover officer Mick Belker. For his part in the show, he won a Primetime Emmy Award for best-supporting actor, as well as earned two Golden Globe nominations in the same category. Weitz shared that he arrived at his audition already dressed as the part.

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"I went to the audition dressed as how I thought the character should dress—and loud and pushy," Weitz recalled. "When I got into the room, I jumped up on MTM co-founder Grant Tinker's desk and went after his nose. I heard he said afterward, 'There's no way I can't offer him the job.'"

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SPANO WANTED TO BE IN A DIFFERENT ROLE

Joe Spano auditioned for the role of Officer Andrew Renko, a role that went to Charles Haid. Spano ended up playing Lieutenant Henry Goldblume, one of the captain's trusted junior officers, serving at times as a hostage negotiator and gang relations officer. “I was always disappointed that I didn’t end up playing Renko,” Spano told Playboy in 1983. 

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One more thing Spano didn't like about his character, was his love for bow ties. The actor claimed it was series creator, Michael Kozoll's idea. "I fought it all the way," he said. "I thought it was a stereotypical thing to do. But it actually turned out to be right. You don’t play into the bow tie—you fight against it."

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BOCHCO'S WIFE WAS ONLY SUPPOSED TO BE A GUEST

Actress Barbara Bosson, who also happened to be Steven Bochco's wife at the time, played Fay, Captain Frank Furillo’s ex-wife on the show. The character was intended to appear in the first episode in order to “contextualize” the captain and add more depth to his character origins, according to Bochco. 

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However, when then-NBC president, Silverman watched the episode, he asked, “She’s going to be a regular, right?” So I guess that means they had to keep her on the show? Bosson would go on to feature in all seven of the seasons of the show and earn five Primetime Emmy Award nominations for it.

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THE SHOW HAD A LEGENDARY COMPOSER WRITE THE THEME SONG

MIke Post was an amazing composer who wrote the iconic theme song of the show. He also wrote the themes for many popular tv shows like "The Greatest American Hero," "Magnum, P.I.," "The A-Team," "NYPD Blue," and "Law & Order". Bochco asked pst to write something “antithetical” to the visuals. 

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Post wanted to add more orchestration to the piano piece; Bochco disagreed. Its been shared that the renowned composer spent four to five hours writing five minutes of new music for each episode of Hill Street Blues. The legendary composer has won three Grammy Awards and a Primetime Emmy for his work over the years.

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TESTS AUDIENCES DONT ALWAYS KNOW WHAT THEY'RE TALKING ABOUT

Before tv shows hit screens all over America, they have to be tested, and it might surprise you, but "Hill Street Blues" tested poorly. According to a network memo, "the main characters were perceived as being not capable and having flawed personalities. Audiences found the ending unsatisfying. There are too many loose ends.

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'Hill Street' did not come off as a real police station. There was too much chaos in the station house, again reflecting that the police were incapable of maintaining control even on their home ground." Despite all those negative sentiments, NBC picked up the show anyway, and thank goodness they did.

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THE FIRST SEASON WAS SUPPOSED TO HAVE A COUPLE MORE DEATHS

Just because we said that it was a drama, doesn't mean there wasn't any action on the show. Season one was actually supposed to have a little bit ground earth-shattering plot twists. Charles Haid, who plays Officer Andrew Renko, had other projects lined up, so he agreed to take the part of Renko, a man destined to die almost immediately. 

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In fact, Renko was supposed to die in the first episode. However, the other series Haid was relying on didn’t get picked up. Moreover, NBC claimed Renko tested too well for him to meet an early end. Ed Marinaro's Coffey was meant to be shot and killed in “Jungle Madness,” the final episode of the first season. 

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COMING IN LAST PLACE SAVED THE SHOW

Season one of "Hill Street Blues" had historically low ratings. The show finished 87th out of 96 shows but still continued to air for another season. This made the police drama the lowest-rated drama in television history to get a second season. Bochco credited the show’s renewal to two things: 

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First was that NBC was a last-place network at the time. You see, NBC didn't have the same reputation it has now. The second reason was that NBC's advertising sales department was noticing that high-end advertisers were buying commercial time during the show, so money was still rolling in despite the low ratings.

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THE NEVER SAID WHERE THE SHOW WAS IN

Throughout the show's seven-season run, it was never mentioned where the location of the show was. However, the exterior of the Maxwell Street police station in Chicago was used for the external shots of the fictitious Hill Street precinct for the opening credits and background footage. This led many to guess it was in Chicago.

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LOTS OF FUTURE STARS HAD APPEARANCES ON THE SHOW

As we mentioned earlier, the hit police drama became a platform for young, up and coming actors to be featured. Among today's big names were the likes of Don Cheadle, James Cromwell, Laurence Fishburne, Tim Robbins, Andy Garcia, Cuba Gooding Jr., Danny Glover, Frances McDormand, and Michael Richards all found early work on the series.

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BOCHCO WAS A CENSORSHIP NIGHTMARE

The show's creator had a pension for using puns for titles, sometimes they weren't always appropriate. Bochco wanted to title an episode "Moon Over Uranus" after Cape Canaveral hit the news. He didn't get his wish, but eventually got his way, and named two season three episodes “Moon Over Uranus: The Sequel” and “Moon Over Uranus: The Final Legacy.”

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TWO WRITING STARS' CAREERS WERE LAUNCHED ON THE SHOW

Two successful writers had their careers begin on the popular drama. David Milch went from Yale writing teacher to a TV scriptwriter thanks to his former Yale roommate, Jeff Lewis, who was also a writer on the show. His first script for the show was season three's “Trial by Fury” episode, which won an Emmy, a WGA Award, and a Humanitas Prize.

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Milch would go on to be a producer for the show later on. He's also the co-creator of "NYPD Blue" and creator of "Deadwood". Dick Wolf, creator of "Law & Order", was the writer for season six episode, "Somewhere Over the Rambow." His first sole credit was for “What Are Friends For?” which earned Wolf an Emmy nomination in 1986.

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RECORD-SETTING AWARD NUMBERS 

Despite its low ratings, "Hill Street Blues" won eight Emmy Awards its debut season. A debut season record later surpassed only by "The West Wing." The show received 98 Emmy nominations and shares the record for Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series wins, 4, with "Mad Men," "Game of Thrones," "The West Wing," and "L.A. Law."

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Was "Hill Street Blues" your favorite crime drama back in the day? Which of 'the blues' was your favorite character? Let us know in the comment section. Make sure to follow Amomama for more great content on your favorite movies, tv shows and celebrities!

Sources: CNN, Hill Street Blues, Chicago Tribune

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